“Never start a sentence with But.” Countless middle school and high school English-language arts teachers cringe when their
students faithfully repeat this elementary school dictum. “Never use I in your five-paragraph essay.”
Now university professors similarly cringe and shake their heads at the
straight-jacketed rules placed upon their students. However, maybe there is a
method to our madness. Perhaps these writing absolutes serve a useful purpose
for coaching developing writers. Perhaps the little white lies that we teach
our students are actually our tricks of the trade.

Instead of bemoaning past “bad writing instruction,” we should celebrate the fact that our students did remember these rules. After all,
writing teachers of all levels are always shocked at how little transfer
students make from grade to grade or from course to course. Anything that
students retain from previous writing instruction can be used by resourceful
teachers as “teachable moments.” Perhaps it’s time that we trust our colleagues
that they understand best what works for their students at their age levels.

Teaching all of the seemingly arbitrary rules and enforcing them in student writing practice makes sense. As writers mature, 7-12 English-language arts teachers
and university professors can encourage “rule breaking” with sly nods and
winks. Without knowing the rules, developing writers cannot make informed
choices about which ones to break and when they should break them to serve
their writing purposes. In fact, the best writers are rule-breakers. E.B. White
revised and updated Strunk’s Bible of writing style, yet he consistently chose
to break the rules in his own writing. He knew enough to consciously deviate
from the norm. font-weight:normal;mso-bidi-font-weight:bold"">Perhaps writing teachers should
worry more when their students
 bold"">unconsciously bold"">deviate from the norm. Check out these
15 tricks of the trade at

Tags: conclusions, essay, essays, instruction, introductions, revision, six, strategies, structure, traits, More…writing

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